Nicola at the Grand Canal in Venice.
The Venice Biennale is in full swing and Nicola Cunningham from our Exhibitions team was lucky enough to visit this exciting series of exhibitions during the preview week:
"Having worked on the installation of the Picturing Venice exhibition just before travelling to Venice, I couldn’t wait to finally visit the city. Looking at the Carlo Ponti photographs and the William Flint watercolour within the display, depicting the famous winding canals and captivating architecture, I realised I was finally making the trip many before me had taken, embarking on the ‘rite of passage’ known as the Grande Tour.
Whilst attending the preview week of the 56th Venice Biennale, it became apparent to me that the allure of Venice was not only due to the rich history and traditional landscape but the contemporary arts scene.
The Bridge of Sighs, Venice, by Carlo Ponti. On display in the Picturing Venice exhibition at the Lady Lever.
Born from conflict following Napoleon’s invasion, the Venice Biennale was created in 1892 to revitalise the city, creating a universal stage for contemporary art. During this time the Biennale was in contrast to the historical moment of the city, which arguably it still is today, struggling with the balance of the old and the new, the traditional and the contemporary.
The Biennale’s site, know as the Giardini, clearly shows the struggle between past and present. Made from the remains of Napoleon’s French garden, built during the 18th Century, it now houses pavilions representative of each of the world’s nations. Curators and artists take over these spaces every two years, showcasing political and cultural attitudes of the times. It is certainly a place to experience in person! Visually demanding and a window into the rest of the world, it's almost like the Olympics for the arts.
This years Biennale theme, 'All the Worlds Futures', couldn’t have been more fitting to contemplate Venice’s own future and its integration of the old and new. The city is slowly sinking, increasing over recent years due to rising sea levels. The inevitability of Venice ending up under water, in my opinion, makes the city an interesting setting to consider 'All the Worlds Futures'.
The Bridge of Sighs today.
Plus, the Biennale’s own history as a cultural event, which continues to be informed by the power relations of the 20th Century, makes Venice a highly charged location to host such an exhibition.
However, when the present challenges the past or talks directly to it, questions are raised and thoughts provoked. This is what makes the Venice Biennale. It is a conversation with time and the opportunity to watch a country find a new identity or perhaps reshape its past. One thing is clear from my trip and that is that the Biennale saved the city of Venice and will continue to do so, should it manage to stay afloat."